Why big companies care about small ones

By Pat Sisneros and Juergen Kneifel

When you hear the names Boeing, Fluke and Bechtel, you probably don’t think of small business.

At the Alliance Northwest Conference for small businesses in Puyallup on March 18, all three were among the participants, with Boeing as the event’s prime sponsor. A diverse mix of government procurement agents, business and industry — including many small businesses — attended, too.

Why would the Boeing Co. or Bechtel Corp. be concerned or have interest with small business? The answers are simple: Companies that receive federal, state or local government contracts are often required to set aside some of the work to be performed by small businesses. Furthermore, small companies are often able to deliver savings by producing goods or services without the cumbersome overhead that oftentimes comes with big business.

“Small businesses are some of our best suppliers,” said James Wigfall, vice president of supplier management with Boeing, who was the event’s luncheon keynote speaker. “They are an important source of innovation, flexibility and niche services that big companies may have difficulty providing efficiently. They are often able to see and develop new ideas faster than big companies. Innovation is a very big deal for a technology company like Boeing.”

As for the financial commitment Boeing has in its relationship with small businesses, in 2008 Boeing spent $5 billion with small and diverse businesses — most right here in Washington state. Small businesses can learn more about Boeing’s procurement by registering through its Web site, www.boeingsuppliers.com.

Gary Moe is a local entrepreneur and small-business owner from Mukilteo who attended and also spoke at the event. He’s also well connected with Boeing as a small-business partner. His company, ID Integration Inc., works with military and commercial accounts and does significant work with Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, Honeywell and Parker Aerospace, representing roughly 50 percent of ID Integration’s revenues.

The company was started by Moe and his business partner, Jim Wright, who had initially agreed to become manufacturing reps for a Florida company, Control Laser. Their territory included Washington, Idaho and Oregon. After a short-lived tenure as reps, the pair decided that the market was better suited for a business that could provide the physical service and support, rather than taking on the expense of purchasing laser-engraved labeling equipment.

Their first company, Jet City Laser, was launched in 1995 and is still located in Auburn. In February, 1999 ID Integration was formed and incorporated with offices in Mukilteo to serve a new primary client, Boeing.

This small business has challenges just like most in this trying economy. But finding a diverse mix of clients has been a tremendous benefit, Moe said.

There are several military applications requiring ID Integration’s services along with Boeing’s need to have bar-coded identification tags engraved onto some airplane parts.

In some cases the bar code is applied directly to the part rather than attached as a separate label. The ID code can be scanned by a reader, similar to the UPC labels at grocery stores. The company has 15 employees and another 15 independent contractors, providing development and engineering services. Moe said he’s a believer in the benefits of networking with other small businesses and also sharing their product with new prospective partners.

The Alliance event was organized by the Washington State Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), which is housed locally at the Economic Development Council of Snohomish County.

Several workshops at the Alliance 2010 expo featured representatives of various governmental agencies. They were there to encourage small business to bid directly for work that their companies are able to deliver. Promoting competition often times translates into savings.

“The PTAC program assists small businesses with connecting to government contract opportunities through education on the government marketplace, networking opportunities and a computerized bid-matching service,” said Kylene Binder, PTAC Counselor and Center Manager.

In order for businesses to become aware of the processes, the center is there to help. In fact, the office is fully funded in order to help small businesses gain access; the consulting and support services provided by Binder and her staff are free to small business owners.

Next year’s Alliance event is scheduled for March 10 and will once again take place in Puyallup. To learn more, contact the PTAC office at the EDC through the Web site: www.snoedc.org.

Pat Sisneros is the vice president of College Services at Everett Community College. Juergen Kneifel is an associate faculty member with the EvCC Entrepreneurship program. Please send your comments to entrepreneurship@everettcc.edu.